Upon writing this review, of Clear Winter Nights (Multnomah, 2013) by Trevin Wax, there are two disclaimers I should give upfront. First, I don’t like reading fiction. And, second, Trevin is my friend. The first issue probably shouldn’t have too much impact on this, for, if the book turned out to be really good fiction, then it could win me over. The second is only a problem insofar as I am naturally bent to want to say good things about my friend and his first fiction work, and, as a result, may be a little bit prone to see the glass half-full.
The goal of the book was to set, as the bottom of the cover parenthetically states, “Theology in Story.” No doubt that was accomplished. That fact then begs two questions: How good is the theology? And, how good is the story? The theology in Clear Winter Nights was clear, biblical, and ubiquitous. Rarely a sentence, never a paragraph, it seemed, went by without a direct or implied theological statement or idea being shared. In many cases, the interaction between the two main characters – Chris (a young man struggling with many doubts) and Gil (Chris’ retired-preacher grandfather) – called for such theological exchange. It just felt at times like there was so much theology being offered that it was like trying to pour 2 gallons of theology into a 1 gallon book. (My church family probably feels the same way every Sunday when I give them 2 hours worth of sermon material in a 30, ok 45, minute sermon).
The thing I really appreciated about the theology of the book, besides the fact that it was rock-solid biblical, was its application to life. And, these theological applications dealt with a plethora of issues: apologetics and reasoning; unforgiveness; dealing with past failures and regrets; homosexuality; to name a few.
As for the story, while it was fairly simple and easy to follow, it, at times, felt a bit awkward, like a toddler who is learning to walk while balancing his head (the book’s theological content), which is way too big for his body (the storyline). By insinuating that the theology was “too big,” I don’t mean that it was too “deep” to understand. I am simply saying the amount of theological content was pretty heavy for such a short book. I thought the characters, while fairly simply developed, were consistent and believable.
Overall, I liked the book. Because I enjoy reading applied theology, apologetics, etc., I enjoyed the theological content of the book very much, though I thought a little bit of the dialogue sounded like seminary students talking at the break table. But, to have it delivered in a story form was a neat break from simply reading it “straight up.” At times, however, from the standpoint of the book being readable and enjoyable for those who need theology hidden in story, I wonder if Trevin the theologian, perhaps, choked Trevin the story-teller (For instance, “Chris loved the way his granddad leveled the playing field so that no one could claim a superior moral position.” 73).
I would consider Trevin’s first fiction book a great theological success and a good literary start. Trevin is the theologian that he is, and it shows through. He is also, however, one of the most gifted people I know. So, his next fiction work will, no doubt, show the growth that can only come from writing fiction, rather than simply thinking or talking about writing it.
If you like reading fiction, buy it and read it. You will probably appreciate that aspect of the book better than one who doesn’t read fiction. If you like reading theology, buy it and read it. It is a good way to consider these theological issues wrapped in the fabric of life.
(FTC disclaimer – I got a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for writing this unbiased review.)